A weird obsession

By Legal Eagle

I was having lunch with one of my oldest friends today, and she reminded me of the weird obsession which took hold of me about a year ago now. That obsession was World of Warcraft, to which I was addicted for about five months, before going cold turkey and quitting.

It all started when my husband was off work sick for a week, and one of his brothers suggested he should download WoW to keep himself busy during that time. Of course, once my husband had started exploring the game, I had to have a look too. I would never have downloaded it myself because I know that I’ve got a obsessive personality – but no harm in looking, right? It was at a time when I was quite unhappy – we had to move out of our rental place, I’d stalled on my thesis, and I’d probably bitten off more than I could chew in terms of workload (full time PhD, full time teaching load, pretty much full time mother). Hence I found the completion of discrete quests to be quite therapeutic – here was something where I could succeed and actually meet goals. The other thing about me (if you haven’t guessed this already) is that I am very competitive, and I also enjoyed the aspect of competing against other players.

You can choose to be either Alliance (one of the goodies) or Horde (one of the baddies). Within those groups, you can choose to be a variety of different creatures. In some servers, you can go into enemy territory and randomly kill players from the other side (PvP or Player versus Player servers). I was not in one of those. One can also kill the other side if one chooses to join “battlegrounds”.

The thing is that the quests get longer and longer and more complex as you go on, and you can no longer play mostly on your own once you get to high levels. The higher up you get, the more “instances” you have to do (go into dungeons in groups of 5 to 25 other players). And the higher up you get, the more complex and time-consuming those instances get. If a group is depending on you, you don’t feel as though you can abandon them half way through. The big 25 man instances can take hours to do, and require substantial time commitments. But it just creeps up on you the further you get, so you don’t realise how much time you are spending. I was playing regularly into the wee hours at one point.

In the event, I got my Night Elf Hunter (Glitterwane) to Level 70. But at Level 70 you had to do group instances or battlegrounds to get good stuff. And I don’t like groups much, particularly not if I have to group with puerile 14 year olds. Plus, at the high levels, the kind of time requirements expected were far beyond what I could give, particularly once my daughter’s midday sleeps were no longer reliable or even present at all. For variety, I started to level some other characters (both horde and alliance), but then I suddenly realised that I didn’t want to play any more. I feel a bit bad – I never went back again to say goodbye to people or tell them of my decision – but I thought it was safer to just go cold turkey.

Is it something I regret doing? No, not really. There were some interesting aspects to being an online gamer. I got to meet a lot of different people from different countries and of different ages. The social aspect of it fascinated me. I’ve noticed that in some ways, all online communities are similar (whether it’s WoW, the blogosphere or fan bulletin boards). There are flame wars, people who go out of their way to be provocative and people who spend their whole life online. There are also some really awesome people out there.

To an extent, online interactions seem to free people from their inhibitions – both in a positive way, and a negative way. Sometimes people behaved in a way which I suspect they would not have behaved if interactions had been face-to-face and under their own name. It’s easy to befriend others if you are doing it via an “avatar” rather than personally. I found that I was often a respository of confidences (eg, a 14 year old boy being bullied by bigger kids at school and asking me if he should tell his parents or not, because I was “kinda like a Mum too”).

Sometimes, as with the blogosphere, people were amazingly cruel or offensive, perhaps because they were pseudonymous. There were those who seemed to enjoy being as offensive as possible just to provoke a reaction, and the more that you engaged with them, the worse they got. My own strategy for those kinds of people is generally to ignore them rather than argue back: to argue with them just gives them attention that they don’t deserve, and they get worse rather than better.

The other thing which interested me was the WoW Auction Houses. My husband was not so good as I at levelling his characters, but he was really awesome at making money by selling stuff at the Auction House. He always had 10 times the money that I did. It was a very interesting study in marketplaces and economics. What is more, “virtual” goods have a real life price, and rare weapons and the like can be purchased online. When I quit, I considered selling off some of my stuff (and even some of my characters) for real money. But I’ve just left them there, in virtual limbo, in case I ever feel like playing again.

Will I ever play again? I suspect not. Sometimes the whole WoW obsession seems like a very strange episode in my life (although, hey, perhaps my life is just a string of strange episodes). At times, I can’t even remember why I was so tied up in it. At other times, I miss it, or I miss specific people and wonder what happened to them. Anyway, just thought I’d share this episode in my life with you.

13 Comments

  1. Posted August 2, 2008 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    There was a time when I was addicted to WoW, but I gave it up for similar reasons to you. It was too much effort to ‘progress’ my Level 70 character by doing instances to find rare armour, so I went back and started a few new characters but gave up soon after because it got boring.

    I’m glad I had my WoW ‘phase’ though.

  2. Posted August 3, 2008 at 2:16 am | Permalink

  3. conrad
    Posted August 3, 2008 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Yobbo had a good post on this once, where you can see his, well, losings:

    http://yobbo.wordpress.com/2007/07/20/world-of-warcraft-cost-me-8000/

  4. Sinclair Davidson
    Posted August 3, 2008 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Not everyone quits while they’re ahead.

    http://yobbo.wordpress.com/2007/04/14/world-of-whorecraft/

  5. Jacques Chester
    Posted August 3, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    WoW, like gambling, is a variable ratio reinforcement activity.

    Rewards come at relatively random intervals in relatively random amounts.

    The variable ratio schedule produces both the highest rate of responding and the greatest resistance to extinction.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinforcement#Effects_of_different_types_of_simple_schedules

  6. Jacques Chester
    Posted August 3, 2008 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, a lot of my friends got very seriously into WoW (as they had previously into Neverwinter Nights, and previously into MUDs).

    They formed a guild, or as I called it, a debating society, since they spent all their time arguing about how loot should be divvied up.

    I started working on a module to track and calculate everyone’s contribution to raids and even held down a trial account to run around and test my code. To be honest I just couldn’t see the attraction.

    In any case, Blizzard rather wisely disabled the ability of third party modules to use networking facilities, so there was no easy way for my code to upload logged data for analysis. I lost interest at about that point. The debating club was disbanded some time later, and everyone is good friends again.

  7. Posted August 3, 2008 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    I played Dungeons & Dragons at school, and for that reason thought it very much in my best interests if I left WoW well alone… otherwise I think there’d have been a lot of neglected work, unhappy clients, abandoned thesis etc…

  8. LDU
    Posted August 3, 2008 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    I never knew you were a gamer lol.

  9. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted August 3, 2008 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    I was a half-elf thief called Kellen for several years of D&D (even went on the 7.30 Report to defend the practice). I actually wanted to be a half-drow assassin with chaotic neutral alignment but my DM wouldn’t let me on the grounds that I’d have too much fun.

  10. Marmaduke
    Posted August 6, 2008 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    My experience with WoW was almost identical to yours – reading this post brought back some memories.

    I also left cold turkey after hitting 60 (the cap at the time) and not having enough time or patience to grind items.

    I do wonder about the people I met, I find it funny that I spent so much time with certain people and then just left, never to see or speak to them again, almost as though they were virtual people.

    I dont regret it though, despite the fact that I probably sacrificed a bit of GPA in my law degee.

One Trackback

  1. By Skepticlawyer » Online animals and the law on August 1, 2011 at 5:15 am

    […] if I hadn’t had a period of my life where I was obsessed with World of Warcraft (described here). One of the aspects of the game that fascinated me then was the WoW Auction houses: My husband was […]

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